If you are here, you probably already have an idea of what heli-ski is. If you don’t though, we’ll break it down for you very simply. Take a helicopter to a place that has no lift, no infrastructure, and the powder is pristine and raw. Have them drop you off at the highest place you can get to. Take your skis or snowboard, and experience the thrill of shredding snow through the rawest environment imaginable. Sound awesome? Guess what, it is!
We have done our research, taken our helicopter rides, and made some amazing runs, and we want to share what we learned with you. It sounds pretty expensive, but, surprisingly, you can find some great deals if you are willing to hunt a bit. Or, you could just read this article and find out some of the best places in the world to go at a fabulous price. Just remember, every place we say heli-ski in this post, the exact same conditions apply for snowboarders too. Every single place is very board friendly as well.
Pick Your Continent
Heli-skiing has become a very popular sport, starting from the 1950s in Alaska and Europe, and growing in popularity since. There are popular places to go on most of the continents; we will name the most accessible and affordable. Whether you go near or far, though, the experiences are very similar, so bear in mind your initial travel cost to your heli-skiing destination.
On the North American continent, there are only a few games in town. Alaska, Colorado, Nevada, Washington, and British Columbia, Canada. Each have their ups and downs, though you won’t have anything less than an amazing time in any location.
Surprisingly, one of the best places to go is Lamoille, Nevada. Not a place you would ever think would have heli-ski, right? Well, the Ruby Range in northern Nevada, while it doesn’t normally get a lot of attention, is pretty much a perfect environment for heli-skiing. The entire snow-covered part is approximately 60 miles long, and 12 wide at the most, and the highest point is only 11,000 feet. It does, however, due to the unique climate, get more than 300 inches of extremely dry powder. The climate is very dry, making the runs exactly how they should be. The local resort guarantees 39,000 feet of vertical over a 3-day period. That’s more than 7 runs a day, which should be enough for even the most hardcore heli-skiers or boarders. They are also equipped with a Snowcat that will take you up to 7,500 feet if a storm grounds the helicopters. Once you are done for the day, you stay on a ranch, in a hunting lodge. The weather is great on the ground, and the food is to die for. Prices are WAY lower than say, Colorado runs as well, though there are a few operators in Alaska that go less than $1,000 a day. Those aren’t all-in-one packages, though, and Nevada is a cheap place to get to, just a couple of hours drive from Salt Lake City. All in all, we loved every single minute of it. Piece of advice: get the roasted rack of lamb for dinner one night. Words can’t do it justice.
Mazama, Washington is a great place to go too. For the budget-conscious heli-ski trip, this is it. Just a few hours east of Seattle, in Methow Valley, lies a heli-ski company whose motto is “laid back.” The company was created with the idea of “by the riders, for the riders.” If you go in March, and take three buddies along, you can get half off of one of the seats’ $1000 dollar a day fee—or go with eight people and one seat will be free. Guaranteed seven runs a day, and so large you will think you are in Alaska. Plus, Seattle is really cheap to fly into.
Heli-skiing in Europe is a bit different than heli-skiing in North America. Being the go-to place for extreme snow sports, most heli-ski originates in traditional ski resorts. Traditional heli-ski style in Europe is one to three drops a day, but since you will be at a ski resort, you can combine that with the resort’s runs too, and get the best of both worlds. Helicopter travel is rigorously controlled in Europe, though, so all sites are designated, effectively limiting the size of the terrain.
The skiing Mecca for snow junkies everywhere, Switzerland prefers the single drop style. The interesting part is that they offer multi-day heli-ski safaris. You ski to different villages where your stuff is transported by car and waiting for you at your hotel by the time you get to the bottom. Most of these tours actually cover three countries, including Switzerland, Italy and France, as they are so close together.
There are a number of places available, most of them close to the border with France. One of our favorite places was Cervinia, which offers different options of one to three drops a day, all-day packages or multi-day trips. At the end of the day, you can relax in a true Italian restaurant, drinking a fabulous glass of vino. Prices are decent, and the a la carte attitude towards the heli-ski drops allows you go as economical or expensive as you want.
Romanian heli-ski operations are a heck of a lot cheaper than other options. Trips are preplanned way in advance. They include almost everything, including two days of heliskiing, at 18,000 vertical feet guaranteed. One weather day is included, along with a mountain guide and four nights of housing, partial board and snacks on the mountain, and even airport transfer. Cost is about $2100, which is a great price.
There are only a few heli-ski operations in Asia, but they are worth the trip. The sport is popular in Russia, especially in the far east. Siberian heli-skiing is very cool, allowing for a unique cultural experience combined with awesome snow conditions. While hotels are available, you can stay in a yurt if you want (think big awesome and thick for the cold, semi-permanent round tent, complete with a fire in the center and skins for warmth). Trips are for two weeks, and you can also ski at the local resort. Trust us, don’t go for the hotel room. The yurt rules. (P.S. The helicopters are modern and well kept, so don’t worry.)
In a class of its own, heli-skiing in New Zealand is an advanced industry, fairly inexpensive, and even offers free ride days. This is where they will take you on one drop, for FREE, and if you like it, you can pay for additional runs. Great marketing strategy, because pretty much everyone gets hooked. New Zealand has the highest number of helicopters per capita in the world, so there is a lot of competition, i.e. lower prices. The exchange rate for the NZ dollar against most other major world currencies is very favorable, making things even more financially attractive. Get this: average packages run from $600 to $875 dollars a day. They all include guiding, safety equipment, a gourmet lunch, and transfers to and from your hotel (in Queenstown). Talk about a deal!
Go for It
Heli-skiing is not a sport for everyone, but for those of us who crave the edge, it is one of the best experiences you can have. There is nothing like carving a path through virgin powder in a place where there isn’t another soul (except for your friends going down with you!) for miles. There are some places where you can spend upwards of $150,000 a week, but why would you, when you can have the same runs for a fraction of the cost, and have a great time to boot? Go with at least three friends to most of the places we have listed, and the operators will usually cut you a package discount. The more of you there are, the better the prices.
Tell us what you think, and if you have a suggestion of a place to go, or tips for the other people who landed here! Happy trails!